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Answers to Freqeuently Asked Questions:

Q: What makes your theatre company "Jewish"? A: Theatre Ariel is dedicated to telling stories centered on the Jewish experience – its history, culture and thought. On a practical level, Theatre Ariel’s criteria for whether a play fits our mission is simply: are the Jewish parts of the play integral to the story somehow? Put another way, if the Jewish elements were cut from the play and the play still made sense, then it’s not a Theatre Ariel play. We believe that through our focus on the specific – in this case, specifically our focus on the Jewish experience – we can illuminate the universal. As Rabbi Lionel Blue once said, “Jews are just like everyone else, only more so.”

Q: Do I have to be Jewish to attend or be involved?  A: Everyone is welcome to be a part of the Theatre Ariel community – on the stage, backstage and in the audience! The American Jewish Community reports that 44% of Americans reported knowing “nothing” or “not much” about Jews and Judaism. Part of our mission is to help change that statistic, at least in our little corner of the Philadelphia area! We also believe that diversity elevates our work and our community, so having non-Jewish voices in the rehearsal room, on stage and in the audience deepens the experience for all.

Q: How do you address the diversity of Jewish voices?   A: While Ashkenazi Jews (that is, Jews of Eastern European descent) make up two-thirds of American Jewry (according to a Pew Research Center study), Theatre Ariel embraces and seeks to explore the diverse spectrum of Jewish experiences. That includes, in addition to Ashkenazim, Sephardim (Jews of Spanish and Mediterranean descent), Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern, North African and Central Asian descent) and Jews of Color. Theatre Ariel recognizes that much of American Jewish culture is Ashkenazi-centered and seeks to help change that default understanding of Jewry.

Q: What if I’m Jewish but don’t have a deep knowledge of Jewish culture, religion or history? A: There are no tests to be a part of our community! No one will ask you to recite your bar or bat mitzvah Torah portion – in fact, we won’t even ask if you’ve been bar mitzvahed, what you believe, or what the difference is between a latke and a hamentaschen*. We welcome everyone – Jewish or not – regardless of denomination, belief or practice. For some in our audience, Theatre Ariel is just another part of their Jewish life; for others, it’s the most Jewish-ness they’ll experience all year.   *A latke is a potato pancake, often eaten during Hanukkah. A hamentaschen is a triangular pastry with a fruit-filling center, eaten during Purim. Yum!

Q: Is there going to be a lot of Hebrew or Yiddish in the show? Are there going to be jokes or references I don’t get?  A: Maybe – but not so much that it will stop you from enjoying the show. The truth is, any culturally-specific work is going to have elements that may resonate more strongly with people from within that culture. However, our plays are universal in their themes and their humanity. While they might contain a reference to something uniquely Jewish or one or two “inside jokes,” every work of art contains an element or two – a comment, a reference, a visual clue – that not everyone always “gets”. We make sure that you’ll be able to follow the story, and anything you don’t understand you’ll pick up from context clues. And, who knows, you might learn something, too!

Q: What’s a Salon? A: Since 2008, one of Theatre Ariel’s main modes of performance has been our Salons. Inspired by the practice of Eastern European artists in the 19th century gathering in salons to read one another’s work, our Salons were originally presented in people’s homes. They have since evolved to be presented almost exclusively in public venues – though we’ve retained the intimate feel of the living rooms. The Salons are concert-style readings of new and established plays, performed by local professional actors. Audiences have described these Salons as “theatre without distraction.” They offer a unique opportunity to really hear the play in an intimate setting. Every Salon is also followed by a conversation with the artists involved. Often, these conversations illuminate themes in the play, and it’s an interchange of ideas among the audience and artists. Try it – you’ll like it!

Q: Why are theatre tickets so expensive? Even for a Salon? A: Actually, our tickets should be more expensive. If we were a for-profit theatre, tickets for a Salon would be about $120; and close to $200 for a Mainstage performance! Why? Theatre Ariel prides itself on being a professional theatre company – meaning everyone who works with us gets paid an equitable wage. Putting up a Salon means renting space, paying the playwright and actors, running our ticketing system, advertising, and more. Because we are a non-profit, our ticket prices are subsidized by our donors, meaning we can offer more affordably-priced tickets to our audience. (And if that makes you want to donate, you can do so here!)

Q: Why does Philadelphia need a Jewish theatre company? A: At Theatre Ariel, we believe theatre is an important component of Jewish culture – and that Jewish culture is a key component of Jewish life. As Randy Lutterman, JCC Vice President (Development and Arts & Culture at JCC Association of North America) wrote, “The stories we tell make our communities stronger… Arts and Culture in our Jewish communities is not a luxury: It’s essential.” (Peoplehood Papers 31) Jewish theater and performance have always been a part of Jewish culture. The classic example is the Purim schpiel. Jewish theatre has always been vibrant – especially at our darkest hours. Even in the ghettos during the Holocaust, there were traveling theatre troupes. Then there’s the popularity of Yiddish theatre both in Europe in the United States, and, of course, the incredible representation of Jewish artists on Broadway. Theatre Ariel is a part of that tradition. Live theatre is potent and powerful. Theatre Ariel’s performances can unite, solidify and educate Jews and non-Jews alike. Each Theatre Ariel performance is a cultural experience and a community event like no other and all are invited to join us!

Q: What are your post-show conversations? A: Every Theatre Ariel performance is followed by a post-show conversation (sometimes called “talk backs”). It’s a chance for the audience to engage with the artists involved in the show and with one another on the topics and themes of the show, the practicalities of the performance, the history and backstory of the play and more. Audiences tell us that this is one of their favorite parts of our work and often makes them think about the show in a deeper way or even rethink their initial impressions of it.

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